West Virginia (4-1) gets its first crack at a ranked opponent on Wednesday, when it travels to Lexington, Kentucky to take on the No. 16-ranked Kentucky Wildcats (4-1) as part of the SEC/Big 12 Challenge.
Kentucky is coming off back-to-back lopsided wins, and has yet to play a game that has been decided by fewer than 21 points.
WVU, meanwhile, is coming off a 1-1 showing in the St. Pete Showcase, where it suffered a one-point loss to BYU in the tournament title game.
“I couldn’t understand why we kept turning the ball over against a little bit of trapping,” said WVU Mike Carey of the BYU loss. “Bottom line was, we played good enough to win, just turned the ball over.”
Turning the ball over is something that the Wildcats haven’t done much of this season. Kentucky is averaging just 11.4 turnover per contest, while the Mountaineers are committing 17.2 turnovers per game. However, Carey’s defense is creating more than 27 turnovers per contest.
Carey was also surprised that his team wasn’t more aggressive offensively.
“We just weren’t aggressive, which surprises me,” he said. “That was a little bit disappointing.”
The Wildcats are led by a pair of “elite scorers” in Dre’una Edwards and Rhyne Howard, who both average 19.2 points per game. That places them in the top 15 in the country for scoring average among Power 5 Conference players.
“[Howard] is very athletic. She’s a top 5 draft choice going into this year, and she can score. She can score the basketball,” Carey said. “We got to play solid defense. Transition defense is going to be very important.”
The duo of Edwards and Howard are two of four Wildcats players who are averaging double figures, scoring-wise. They are also Kentucky’s top rebounders, both averaging more than six per game.
West Virginia is led by KK Deans, who’s scoring at a rate of 15 points per game.
Deans and Esmery Martinez, who’s averaging 13.2 points per contest, are the only two Mountaineers who are averaging double figures in the scoring column. Martinez is also WVU’s leading rebounder, grabbing 7.4 boards per game.
Martinez is also part of the size advantage that the Mountaineers will have over the Wildcats. WVU’s roster has six players listed at 6-foot-2 or taller, where as the Kentucky has four such players.
Carey said on Monday that Martinez is still dealing with some of the side effects of an illness that she played through while the team was in Florida.
The coach also acknowledged that Wednesday’s meeting between WVU and Kentucky is part of the last iteration of the SEC/Big 12 Challenge in women’s basketball.
“This is it. Me, personally, I wanted to renew it,” Carey said. “But it’s not being renewed. My understanding, this is not being renewed. The SEC is going with another league now.”
West Virginia is 4-1 in the SEC/Big 12 Challenge, and has won its last two matchups in the event.
The Mountaineers last faced Kentucky in 2005 in a game that WVU won in double-overtime to advance to the WNIT championship game.
Tip-off between West Virginia and Kentucky is set for 7 p.m. in the Memorial Coliseum, and can be seen on SEC Network+ on Watch ESPN.